It’s amazing how alike Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s The Batman’s Grave is to their modern classic, The Authority. Ellis and Hitch are two of the most important comics creators in the history of the medium – their work on The Authorityis one of the brightest dividers between comic book eras there is, like Showcase#4* — the introduction of Barry Allen that marked the line between the Golden and Silver ages. And they bring that same energy to their new Batman story.
The big, sweeping, epic scenes that made The Authoritysuch a big deal are all there in The Batman’s Grave,along with wit so dry it’s mummified. That’s because of the talent of the creative team working on the book, Hitch tells us in an interview.
“Warren is one of the rare writers who can think visually and write the beats with enough clarity that, if you followed them exactly it would work just fine…but also with enough room that you can move in your own space as a visual storyteller,” Hitch says. “He deserves to be recognized as a key architect of modern comic books but also as modern master, a genius.”
The team excels with the camera pulled way back, but the most surprising part of the book is how good it is up close. This story is the detective Batman story that nobody realized they were missing until they had it, and to pull it off and make it that good, Hitch and colorist Alex Sinclair get right into Batman’s mind as he follows clues and leads, and use that color work as an anchor for fight sequences.
In short, Sinclair is doing as much storytelling work as anyone else on the creative team. That’s by design. Hitch tells us, “Alex is a joy to work with. He knows his gear so unless you have a very specific need or note, he’ll give a great job regardless. When we started this one though, we exchanged a few mails and talked about mood and tone and he got it totally…so again, unless I have a very specific note, he has the art and script and goes his own way and surprises me with how good it is each and every issue.”
A surprising part of the success of The Batman’s Grave is how funny it is. Ellis and Hitch aren’t necessarily known for jokes, but “habitually ripped to the gills on very fine cocaine” Alfred is both the funniest a Batman comic has been in years and the best Alfred in a decade.
Hitch tells us it’s important to trust one’s instincts on comic delivery like this: “I have been tempted to redraw Alfred’s face a bit but only because it’s come out more David Niven-y that I’d planned on. I’ve found actually that, as far as expressions go, less is always more. Over dramatize and you lose the emotion so, given the dialogue I get, I try to do as little as possible with the faces and hint at emotion and expression.”
Of course, tone and scale aside, this is still a Batman comic, and drawing Batman and Gotham comes with certain perks.
“I’ve wanted to do a proper Batman book since childhood so all the tropes from Batmobile, Batcave, to Wayne Manor have been developing in my mind for decades,” Hitch says. “I’ve drawn Batman in Justice League which was nice but getting to fully play with his world has been as ‘Batmanny’ as I could have hoped for.”
Spoilers: the book is exceptionally Batmanny. Right out of the gate in issue 4, we get shots of what is for all intents and purposes the locker room of the Batcave with some suit designs that belong on action figures immediately, and one of the best Batmobiles in recent memory.
Overall, The Batman’s Gravehas started incredibly strong, and if it keeps up like this, it might turn out to be an all-time classic. Here’s what DC has to say about the next issue:
THE BATMAN’S GRAVE #4
written by WARREN ELLIS art and cover by BRYAN HITCH variant cover by JEEHYUNG LEE
Why did a blackmailer become a murderer? How does the Batman survive an opponent who can kill him with his own mind? Find out all this and more in the latest chapter of the 12-issue series from writer Warren Ellis and artist Bryan Hitch!
And here are these beautiful preview pages. Take a look!
*I can’t let this go without arguing with myself even further. The divider between the Silver and Bronze ages is equal parts DC chasing Marvel’s everyman success with books like “Hard Travellin Heroes” in Green Lantern/Green Arrowand the Marvel folks pumping Jim Starlin full of acid and letting him run wild in space, so that line is somewhat diffuse. The same goes for the line between the Bronze and Speculator ages – it’s Watchmen, sure, but it’s also The Dark Knight Returnsand Secret Warsand Crisis on Infinite Earths. Showcase,however, is the point where the corpse of the Golden Age comes back to life, and The Authoritylaunched the Widescreen Era that gave us the comics that are all getting turned into movies now, and remains such a singular accomplishment that it’s more or less untranslatable. Fight me in the comments.